Closely related to spider monkeys, there are five species of woolly monkeys in the rainforests of South America. Named for their extremely dense fur, woolly monkeys can be brown, gray, tan, reddish, or even black, depending on the species. As well as being thick, their short fur is also very soft. An extremely rare subspecies of the gray woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagotricha tschudii) is found only in southeastern Peru, in the forests between the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers
Woolly monkeys’ natural range extends from Brazil to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. They tend to occupy the tall trees that form the rainforest canopy, although they can also be spotted on occasion at mid-canopy and even lower canopy levels. During the rainy season, they will also enter flooded forests, in search of berries during the Amazon fruiting season, and are also known to venture into higher elevation cloud forest habitats. They spend their lives above the forest floor, rarely if ever descending to ground level. Their days are spent moving from tree to tree, in search of food.
Woolly monkeys can grow up to 60 centimeters (24 inches) in length, excluding their thick tail, which more than doubles their body length. An adult woolly monkey may weigh up to 7 kilograms (15.5 pounds), with males tending to weigh more on average than females, although they are the same length, as well as possessing larger canines. The woolly monkey’s head is large and round, and the face is bare and either dark brown or black. Their bodies are thickset and they have long, sturdy limbs, a prehensile tail, and a prominent, protruding belly.
Woolly monkeys are active during the daytime, and they are sometimes observed in mixed groups that include howler monkeys or capuchins. They move slowly through the forest, mostly traveling on all fours, but also swinging from branch to branch, using their hands, feet or tail, and at times they may be seen moving through the rainforest canopy using only their tail. They are also able to stand erect on their hind legs, by using their tail as support.
Across their different species, woolly monkeys are believed to live for between 25 to 30 years, reaching maturity at between 5 and 6 years of age. They live in groups of anywhere between two and dozens of individuals, engaging in social grooming and communicating using a range of vocalizations, as well as facial expressions. Their vocalizations are extremely loud, and vary from barks to high-pitched screams. Large groups tend to split into subgroups when foraging and feeding, but will come together again at night to sleep. Males mate with several females during the breeding season, and the female woolly monkey gives birth to a single young after a gestation period of between seven and eight months. Mothers will typically nurse their infant for between nine and twelve months, although young woolly monkeys start to become more independent from around the age of five or six months.
In their Amazon forest habitat, the woolly monkey diet consists mainly of fruit and leaves, and they will also eat seeds, nuts, flowers, nectar and even insects and occasionally small rodents. Their predilection for fruit makes them important rainforest seed dispersers. In captivity they will accept almost any food. Woolly monkeys have been victims of the international trade in wild animals. They make popular pets by virtue of their playful, placid and gentle nature, and their apparent craving for attention, even appearing to weep when perturbed. In the wild, while they are hunted by some large eagles and by jaguars, the biggest threat to woolly monkeys is human activity, in the form of deforestation and habitat loss, and they are now considered endangered across much of their range. Traditionally, woolly monkeys have been hunted by indigenous groups for their meat.